Sally Ann Shurmur: Peter King, Broadway Joe And Me

Columnist Sally Ann Shurmur writes, "I suppose most professionals have someone whom they look to as having achieved the pinnacle in their profession. For me, it is the sportswriter Peter King..."

Sally Ann Shurmur

June 20, 20245 min read

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(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

I suppose most professionals have someone whom they look to as having achieved the pinnacle in their profession.

For me, it is the sportswriter Peter King, whose great career included Sports Illustrated, NBC’s Sunday Night Football and then his franchised Football Morning in America newsletter, which hit the inbox in the wee hours of Monday morning and was required reading during the NFL season.

He covered the NFL for 40 years, which included the entire quarter- century NFL career of Fritz the Dad.

My favorite Peter King story by far was published in SI in November 1990 and detailed riding the Madden cruiser with John Madden across the country that September, mostly on I-80, and seeing the sun come up in Wyoming.

King announced his retirement in February and so I was delighted to find a special edition of FMIA in early June. It was his Father’s Day book list, suggested books to buy the men in your life for Father’s Day.

There was a twist to number one however, because it was 50 years old, no longer in print and extremely hard to find.

“The Last Year of Weeb Ewbank,” by King’s dear friend Paul Zimmerman, was printed in 1974.

Peter thought it would be fun to have a book swap, sending the two copies of the book he found to random people who would read it and then send it on to another person who requested it.

I immediately signed up for the drawing that would be limited to 20 people per copy.

I did so for several reasons. I obviously love to read. I remembered the affection Zimmerman or “Zim,” as friends called him, had for Fritz when he, too, wrote for SI later in his career.

And it was about the Jets, who employed one of my very first and deep heart throbs, Joseph William Namath of Beaver Falls, Pa., and the University of Alabama.

I may have been only 13 when Broadway Joe won the Super Bowl, but I was in LOVE with him and knew nearly everything about him.

I was shocked when I got an email from Peter saying that he had rounded up a third copy of the book, from a since closed Alabama school’s library.

And I was the first to get that copy.

I sent the mail getter to the post office every day, and it took from Friday to Wednesday to get it delivered priority from Connecticut.

Peter asked that we keep the book for no more than 14 days before sending it to the next person on the enclosed list, so I broke away from my normal smut romances to devote myself to the bumbling 1973 Jets.

What a mess they were.

As the beat writer for the New York Post at the time, Zim had unimaginable access to the team, players, coaches, front office and agents.

For example, the writers flew on team charters back then, ate at the training table and visited players in their dorm rooms at training camp.

Ewbank had announced a full year in advance that the ‘73 season would be his last, and as general manager as well as head coach, he was mired nearly constantly in contract negotiations.

The first chunk of the book was devoted to that and I thought it very, very dry. I needed to remember that it was written 50 years ago, and times — and sportwriting — have changed.

Once the season began, the book became far more enjoyable as each game was covered in the style of a daily journal.

And by the end of that season, I really felt sorry for Weeb, who seemed to have lost the confidence of everyone around him.

There were some great nuggets, including the fact that Namath actually speaks Hungarian.

And the Jets offensive line coach was Wimp Hewgley, who was an assistant with Fritz at Wyoming in the Lloyd Eaton years.

I sent the book to Scottsdale, Arizona, just six days after receiving it, and as Peter requested, sent the next recipient a quick note telling him to expect it.

And the reply I received gave me pause. He said he had just arrived home to recover after receiving his second liver transplant in six months, and was looking forward to having something to read.

Now for the other Namath nugget. In the early 1970’s, Fritz was in New York City and met Joe in an elevator. He sheepishly told him that his teenage daughter in Wyoming was crazy about him.

A week later, I got a yellow 8x10 envelope in the mail with a green return address label that said “New York Jets.”

Inside was a grainy black and white photo of the god himself, inscribed “to my favorite Laramie lady.”

I wish I could say I knew where that was today. I fear it was a victim of the parents’ five NFL moves.

But I am happy that a 50-year-old book survived and that I was randomly picked to read it.

Sally Ann Shurmur can be reached at:

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Sally Ann Shurmur